Prominent businessman’s trial: Defence lawyers question Crown witnesses credibility

Defence lawyers for a prominent Kiwi businessman, accused of attempting to pay off an indecent assault complainant, and his manager have questioned the credibility of some the Crown’s key witnesses.

His trial began yesterday in the High Court at Auckland before a jury, with Justice Geoffrey Venning presiding.

The businessman, who continues to enjoy interim name suppression, faces three charges of indecent assault over sexual allegations against three men from separate occasions in the early 2000s, 2008 and 2016.

He is further accused of twice attempting to pervert the course of justice in 2017 by trying to dissuade the 2016 complainant with payment of $15,000 and the offer of future work opportunities.

The prominent Kiwi’s manager, who also has name suppression, is on trial alongside him and jointly faces a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice for attempting to dissuade the 2016 complainant.

The Crown has described it as an “elaborate” plot on the Gold Coast in May 2017.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The Gold Coast scheme, the Crown alleges, involved the businessman recruiting two people who work in public relations to aid the attempt.

“Their evidence is incriminating to them,” prosecutor Simon Foote QC said of the PR experts.

However, the Solicitor-General has granted the duo immunity from prosecution in return for their evidence for the Crown, he explained.

Today, the manager’s lawyer Rachael Reed QC asked the jury to pay close attention to the potential motivations “for particular witness”.

She said her client, who was not physically on the Gold Coast, was never involved in the alleged plot.

Foote yesterday told the jury the businessman paid a total of $56,000 to the PR duo for their part in the alleged scheme, which involved a meeting with the complainant at the five-star Palazzo Versace hotel.

“The plan was clear to the conspirators, get rid of the complaint against [the businessman] by providing an attractive offer of work,” Foote said.

Within 24 hours of returning to Auckland from the Gold Coast, the two PR workers met with the businessman’s manager at a central city bar.

The Crown has described the manager as the rich-lister’s “right-hand man”.

The meeting, however, was secretly recorded by one of the PR workers on their phone.

The court heard the businessman’s manager can be heard uttering: “I’m exposed.”

While one of the PR experts said: “I ain’t going down for this sh*t.”

Reed said the conversation was covertly recorded so the PR experts could collect carefully curated evidence as part of a strategy to avoid responsibility.

She said the plot to dissuade the complainant was “a mission they did of their own volition”.

The businessman’s lawyer, David Jones QC, yesterday said reliability and credibility “is a big issue in this trial for many of the Crown witnesses”.

“The thing about being a wealthy [man] is a lot of people are coming to you asking for money and a lot of people are going to be going away disappointed,” Jones said in an opening statement.

As the trial began, Justice Venning told the jury a third defendant, a well-known entertainer, has already pleaded guilty to two charges for his efforts – including on the Gold Coast – to have the 2016 complainant withdrawal their allegations

The entertainer, who has interim name suppression, is due to be sentenced next month.

The trial is expected to last about five weeks.

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